As the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers assembled together at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the last time before moving to Heinz Field on Tuesday after their day off, we were also given the typical media session from head coach Mike Tomlin. Therefore, it’s time to look at the players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.
Antoine Brooks Jr.
When a player leaves practice early due to injury, they are usually the topic of the first question asked if not addressed by Coach Tomlin in his opening statement. Since no players were mentioned during this specific press conference in his opening remarks, Coach Tomlin was asked if the injury to Antoine Brooks Jr., who left practice early on Sunday, was serious.
Following a similar line of questioning, the next question came about J.C. Hassenauer who left practice early on Saturday and was not participating on Sunday. Coach Tomlin was asked about how Hassenauer was doing.
“We can characterize him as day-to-day. Ask me again tomorrow.”
One thing many Steelers fans would like to see in 2021 is more inclusion of Steelers fullback Derek Watt. Coach Tomlin was asked about what a fullback offers in today’s NFL.
“I think when you’re talking about today’s fullback, I think it starts, additionally, with special teams because you use a lot of different personnel groups. They don’t play as much as they used to. That’s the hidden value of Derek Watt and that’s what’s not talked about enough regarding Derek Watt. He’s our fullback and we utilize him and we can talk about whether or not we choose to throw him the ball or use him on lead blocks and so forth, but he’s a core component of our special teams unit and I didn’t want to miss that point as well.”
Coach Tomlin was then asked a follow-up question about if Watt will see more opportunities in Matt Canada’s offense.
“To be determined.”
While rookies get a lot of questions asked about them in training camp, so do players who have NFL experience but are new to the Steelers. Coach Tomlin was asked about guard Trai Turner and how he is getting acclimated to the Steelers.
“I think he fits in well. He’s a football lover. He’s the veteran guy of the group and I’ve asked him to provide that guidance for young people, if you will, even though he’s new to us. And he embraces that. We’re excited to have him.”
Coach Tomlin was asked a follow-up question about the importance of having another veteran player in Turner in the locker room.
“I just ask those guys to be themselves. He’s (Trai) a guy that brings seven years of pro experience, I think he’s a five-time Pro Bowler. It’d be selfish for him not to share that perspective.”
Coming off a season-ending ACL injury in Week 1 of 2020, offensive tackle Zach Banner has not been a full go at practices so far in training camp. Coach Tomlin was asked if Banner has had any setbacks and if we will see more of him soon.
“No, no setbacks. We’re excited about where he is and we’ll just keep moving forward with this process. Some of the guys that maybe you guys have had questions about regarding participation, it’ll pick up as we transition to the stadium.”
Pat Freiermuth & Najee Harris
As stated before, the rookies, particularly those taken high in the NFL draft, are always watched closely during training camp. Coach Tomlin was asked about his impressions of second-round draft pick Pat Freiermuth, and in his answer he also brought up first-round draft pick Najee Harris.
“He’s working hard. He’s on the details. But as are some others. I’m pleased with Najee (Harris) and what he’s doing as well. They’ll continue to write their stories. Obviously, football in shorts we don’t put a lot of stake in. As we put the pads on, we’re excited to see what they bring.”
After answering a few questions about the Hall of Fame induction and former Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu, Coach Tomlin was asked if they were any similarities between current Steelers All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Hall of Famer.
“I don’t want to put that on Minkah. I’m not even starting that discussion. Minkah’s a really good emerging player. His resume reads that way. But I’m not getting into that.”
A portion of Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen below as well as a link to the full interview on the Steelers’ YouTube channel.